New IOM Report Calls for Migrant-Inclusive Approaches to COVID-19 Recovery Plans

Bangkok – Migrant workers make a vital contribution to the Thai economy and have been supporting communities and economies during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they are also among the hardest hit by the crisis, particularly by business and border closures preventing access to regular migration and employment.

This was revealed after today’s launch of a new International Organization for Migration (IOM) study that assessed the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant workers and their families in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Thailand (CLMT).

“Inclusion of migrants in COVID-19 response and recovery plans and policies is crucial for a just recovery from the pandemic. However, the availability of comprehensive data that can be used to inform migrant-centred approaches and policies to socioeconomic recovery in the four countries remains limited,” said Geraldine Ansart, IOM Chief of Mission in Thailand.

“The study has generated valuable insights on the experiences of migrant workers during the pandemic. We hope that the findings can assist in shaping policies and programmes for both recovery and longer-term resilience of economies, which consider the specific contributions of and challenges for migrant workers and key sectors employing them,” she added.

Drawn from the experiences of over 2,000 migrant workers, 150 employers, and 60 representatives from migrant communities, businesses and civil society organizations (CSOs) and with data collected between March and May 2021, the study revealed that the vast majority of migrant workers who remained in Thailand were working the same hours for lower pay during the pandemic. Women migrant workers were disproportionately affected, with half of them being paid below the minimum wage. In many cases, migrants facing loss of income in Thailand had to take loans to pay for daily living costs and household expenses.

The study also found that remittances dropped significantly for both the families of migrant workers in Thailand and returnees. Average remittance amounts for households of migrants who remained in Thailand dropped by 50 per cent. Migrant workers who returned to their home country also faced a significant reduction in their average household income from THB 15,820 (USD 525) to THB 4,893 (USD 162) – or close to a 70 per cent reduction in household income.

Recognizing the contributions of migrant workers to the Thai economy, the Royal Thai Government has shown continued commitment to supporting them during the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, following border closures, migrant workers were granted more flexibility to change employers and renew their work permits without leaving the country. As of November 2021, around 1.5 million migrant workers benefitted from this measure.

The Royal Thai Government has also committed to providing free COVID-19 vaccination for everyone living in Thailand, and in November 2021, extended its programme to include documented and undocumented migrants. As of January 2022, 44 per cent of the total non-Thai population in the country have been vaccinated. In addition, any worker infected by COVID-19, including migrant workers, can receive treatment free of charge, lessening their financial burden.

However, the study found that there is limited access to social protection schemes. Only one quarter (24 per cent) of respondents said they were enrolled in any kind of public or private sector benefit scheme as of March 2021 due to a lack of understanding of the enrolment process and migrants’ rights.

Boonchob Suthamanuswong, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour of Thailand, noted that ensuring migrants’ inclusion in Thailand’s COVID-19 response and recovery plans remains a priority in line with the country’s commitments to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

“As we rebuild our economy and society after the COVID-19 crisis, this study makes an important contribution to evidence-based policymaking as well as the promotion of ethical recruitment, decent work and skills development for migrant workers in the post-COVID-19 era both for Thailand and the countries of origin,” he added.

Access the report here:


This study was implemented under IOM’s Poverty Reduction through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement (PROMISE) programme with the support of the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). The PROMISE programme, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), works to ensure that safe labour migration translates into inclusive economic development for migrant workers and their families by investing in skills development and entrepreneurship in CLMT. 

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SDG 1 - No Poverty
SDG 4 - Quality Education
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals